“Good evening,” said Ole-Luk-Oie.
Hjalmar nodded, and then sprang out of bed and turned his great-grandfather’s portrait to the wall so that it might not interrupt them as it had done yesterday. “Now,” said he, “you must tell me some stories about five green peas that lived in one pod, or of the chickseed that courted the chickweed, or of the Darning-needle who acted so proudly because she fancied herself an embroidery needle.”
“You may have too much of a good thing,” said Ole-Luk-Oie. “You know that I like best to show you something, so I will show you my brother. He is also called Ole-Luk-Oie, but he never visits any one but once, and when he does come he takes him away on his horse and tells him stories as they ride along.
“He knows only two stories. One of these is so wonderfully beautiful that no one in the world can imagine anything at all like it, but the other it would be impossible to describe.”
Then Ole-Luk-Oie lifted Hjalmar up to the window. “There, now you can see my brother, the other Ole-Luk-Oie; he is also called Death. You see he is not so bad as they represent him in picture books. There he is a skeleton, but here his coat is embroidered with silver, and he wears the splendid uniform of a hussar, and a mantle of black velvet flies behind him over the horse. Look, how he gallops along.”
Hjalmar saw that as this Ole-Luk-Oie rode on he lifted up old and young and carried them away on his horse. Some he seated in front of him and some behind, but always inquired first, “How stands the record book?”
“Good,” they all answered.
“Yes, but let me see for myself,” he replied, and they were obliged to give him the books. Then all those who had “Very good” or “Exceedingly good” came in front of the horse and heard the beautiful story, while those who had “Middling” or “Fairly good” in their books were obliged to sit behind. They cried and wanted to jump down from the horse, but they could not get free, for they seemed fastened to the seat.
“You need have no fear of him,” said Ole-Luk-Oie; “but take care and keep a good conduct book.”
“Now I call that very instructive,” murmured the great-grandfather’s portrait. “It is useful sometimes to express an opinion.” So he was quite satisfied.
These are some of the doings and sayings of Ole-Luk-Oie. I hope he may visit you himself this evening and relate some more.
– Ole Lukøje, by Hans Christian Andersen
He gazed out over the water toward the Dreaming Life tower on the horizon, gleaming in the pink and orange sky of the setting sun. The sea was calm, and yet to Nate’s eye, a darkness roiled beneath the still surface, dark, silent shapes gliding through its depths as they waited for the scent of his fear.
Was this another trick? Was the joy that lifted Nate’s head, the thankfulness at this chance to see the one who’d shaped his life so completely just another cruelty? A sleight of Coppelius’s hand?
His gratitude at this unexpected gift slipped away as quickly as it had come. This man, the man who was supposed to take care of him, had betrayed him, had opened the door to his mind and let a monster in.
“What are you doing here?” Beyond his father, something broke the surface of the water, tasting the air.
“Is that how you greet your father, Nathanael?” But his voice was gentle.
“You betrayed me. You let Coppelius put something in my head and now he’s trying to destroy my life.” Didn’t he understand what he’d done, what he’d cost his son? Ripples lapped at the water’s edge.
“I didn’t betray you, Nate. I betrayed him.”
“Him? You mean Coppelius?”
“Yes. I took his work and claimed it solely as my own. I robbed him of his future.”
“That’s a lie! You didn’t steal anything from him. He wanted to take what you worked so hard for and twist it.” The ripples grew teeth, scoring the sand.
“No.” His father’s face hardened. “That’s the lie. He wanted to take Dreaming Life to heights I never could’ve imagined. But I was jealous and afraid. I thought he would leave me behind, so I acted first and cut him out.”
“He killed you.” Icy water chilled the soles of Nate’s feet.
“My death was an accident, Nathanael, a mistake. You know that.”
“You didn’t make mistakes. Not like that.”
“Regret and shame made me careless, son. Regret is a terrible thing. It eats away at you until you know longer know who you are.”
Regret and shame. “Is that what happened to you?”
“Yes. And I am sorry, Nathanael, for everything that happened, but there is a way to make it right.”
“Make it right? Nothing can change what’s happened.” The water bit at his ankles.
“No, but it can end it. It can save you.” His father lifted his chin.
“I don’t need to be saved.”
His father frowned. “It can save Clara.”
“What do you mean? Is Clara in danger?” Something sleek brushed against Nate’s leg, curious and curling.
“Coppelius will stop at nothing to get what he wants, Nate. Not after what I did to him. If the only way to do that is use Clara, he’ll do it.”
“What could he do to Clara? She doesn’t have one of his damned chips in her head.”
“It’s not what he’ll do to her, Nathanael, it’s what he’ll make you do to her.”
The sleek thing grew barbs, tender yet, and waiting. “What do I have to do. I’ll do anything.” As long as it ends.
“Give Coppelius your shares in Dreaming Life. Give him what’s rightfully his. It’s a poisoned chalice, and it always will be as long as you have it.”
“But then he’ll own half the company. I can’t do that to Clara and Loth.” It would ruin everything. Dreaming Life, their lives.
“You would rather stand by and watch their lives destroyed?”
“Of course not. I—”
“Then do it. And soon. Coppelius isn’t a patient man, and this is the only way.”
“But—” Clara. The barbs hardened, toughening themselves against the world.
“Stop whining and do it!” For a moment, his father’s features wavered. As they solidified again, his mouth was turned down, his eyes pleading. “Please, Nate. It’s the only way.” He began walking toward the deeper water, his legs churning up the surf.
“Wait, come back!” Nate tried to follow his father, but the barbs pierced the flesh of his legs, impaling him and holding him fast.” No! Come back. There has to be another way!”
His father strode farther and farther away, the water roiling as it rose over his hips. He turned back when only his face and shoulders remained and regarded Nate.
“Her life is in your hands.” Then the water consumed him, and he was gone.
– Clara, Dreaming, by A.W. Cross